One of the things the apostle Paul was known for was fighting against those Jews who tried to insist that Gentile believers must be circumcised in order to really be saved. Throughout the entirety of the New Testament, Paul argued that a person's faith, in combination with God's grace, saves a person. In Galatians 6:15, Paul writes, "For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters is a new creation" (HCSB). In Galatians 3:28, Paul again wrote, "There is no Jew or Geek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (HCSB). Very consistently, Paul argued that there is no need for Gentile believers to be circumcised in order to be saved, in some places going so far as to say that if a person got circumcised then grace became useless because the person was trying to earn salvation. So, for some people, Acts 16:3 is very confusing because Paul "wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all know that his father was a Greek" (HCSB).
Why would Paul, a man who argued so passionately and so consistently against the need for Gentile believers to be circumcised take a young Gentile believer and have him circumcised? Isn't that hypocritical? Doesn't Paul betray everything that he has been fighting for?
You see, Paul argued against having to be circumcised in order to be saved, but Paul didn't circumcise Timothy so that Timothy could be saved. Paul circumcised Timothy so that other people could be saved. Paul wanted Timothy to travel with him in his missionary work because Timothy was a great asset to Paul. But if you are familiar with Paul's ministry, then you know that Paul's first stop in any new city was the Jewish synagogue where he would share the good news that the long awaited Messiah had finally arrived in the person of Jesus. In order for Timothy to minister effectively, Timothy had to be circumcised so that Timothy's uncircumcised condition would not be a hindrance to that initial Gospel message. If Paul were to bring an uncircumcised man into the synagogue and then allow him to speak to law-abiding Jews, those Jews would immediately stop listening to Paul's message because of the lack of respect Paul and Timothy were showing for Jewish tradition and law. So, to cut off any problems before they arose, Paul had Timothy circumcised. Paul and Timothy, together, were living out Paul's missionary motto:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, NIV).
What about us? Sometimes, we avoid witnessing to people because the effort will require too much time. Paul regularly changed his entire way of living in order to more effectively communicate the message of the gospel and Timothy, apparently, did so as well. We keep our mouths closed because the thought of sharing the Gospel makes us uncomfortable. The efforts we do make are often hampered because we don't want to take the time to translate the Gospel into an understandable format for those who have never heard.
We cannot all become heroic, world-traveling missionaries, but we can make sure that our lives do not hinder the message of the Gospel to those who are watching us. We can make sure that, when we share the Gospel, people don't immediately disqualify the message because of our own lifestyles. We can live in such a way that our lives make the Gospel message attractive rather then remove any motivation to listen.
When people look at your life, does it make the message of the Gospel more attractive or does it reinforce the idea that the Bible is just a bunch of stories? Does your behavior and attitude give people a reason to want what you have or convince them that Jesus was just some good teacher whose teachings have no real power in the lives of his followers?
Paul and Timothy were willing to do whatever it took so that their lives reinforced the Gospel message rather than distracted from it. Are we willing to do the same?